Though many agree climate change, or “global warming”, is an existential threat, there is limited convergence on what should be done to avert catastrophic temperature rises or adapt to changing climate conditions.

After the 2009 Copenhagen conference failed to produce a global agreement, the conference of parties (COP21) to the UN Convention on Climate Change aims at delivering a worldwide climate agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which groups 195 nations (the “Conference of the Parties” or “COP”)  recently met in Geneva in order to finalize the draft text to be submitted to the next COP, set for Paris in December 2015. The UN climate talks which started on the 8th of February have ended with an agreement on a formal draft negotiating text for the Paris summit. Much remains to be done.

Although the original idea was to streamline the 37 pages Lima document of December 2014 encompassing a vast range of proposals that could be agreed upon in Paris, the Geneva meeting ended up with an 86-page draft, which will be the basis for negotiations over the next few months leading to the Paris meeting.

The Geneva talks produced a text that listed a variety of alternative approaches on most issues, reflecting conflicting national priorities. The document mentions the general objectives of the agreement, mitigation issues, capacities to adapt to the impact of climate change, financing and technologies that will help limit the increase of the average global surface temperature to no more than 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit). The draft also addresses the issues of transparency, support provided to vulnerable countries and the implementation of and compliance with the agreement.

One of the key elements is the nature of the commitments. Some commitments will be quantified such as those regarding greenhouse gas emissions reduction, based on the same mechanism as the goals of the Kyoto Protocol, and others will give each country room for maneuver in the way the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is implemented. In that case, each country will adopt action programs aimed at maintaining the increase of the average global surface temperature. Therefore, the key political test will be the period from March to June when Governments are expected to submit their national plans to reduce emissions.

Some commentators are optimistic because of the constructive spirit and the speed at which negotiators have worked during the past week even though they deplore the lack of incentive to go beyond the proposed targets.

If an agreement is reached in Paris, it would come into effect in 2020 to replace the Kyoto Protcol and be intended to meet the UN goal of limiting global warming to 2° Celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.